L. Neil Smith's letter to the editor in our last issue caused a great deal of controversy, most of it unfortunately, only verbal (see LETTERS on page 2 for the replies of those who dared to see their views in print). Since most of the reaction concerned Smith's comment on Bernhard Goetz and vigilantism, it seemed like we should give Smith a better chance to explain his beliefs.
To this end. I've included some extensive quotes from an interview Neal Wilgus did with Smith which was published in the Spring, 1985 Science Fiction Review.
Personally. I've always been a little uneasy with aspects of Smith's fiction. In my 1980 review of The Probability Broach in The Libertarian Review, I asked, "but one wonders, is the gunslinger scenario the only alternative to the police state? Is a world without government 'protection' necessarily a jungle? Does freedom make handguns a necessity? In fiction, at least, those who pack guns end up using them."
Neal Wilgus has the same sort of qualms that I have, so I'll let his interview take it from here.
: And how about the gunplay? I've criticized The Probability Broach and your other books in my own reviews for indulging in too much pointless gunplay. Is this your solution to the old utopian travelog problem of boredom?
: Partially. I figured the problem with Edward Bellemy's Looking Backward and other socialist tracts is that they didn't have enough sex and violence to keep readers interested in the commercials. Also I just plain like guns and enjoy writing about them. But I have a few other things in mind as well.
As far as gunplay is concerned, we are witnessing the rise of a prissy neovictorianism—the kind of lindsey which prefers the word "limbs" to "legs"—directed not at sexuality this time but at the human capacity for violence. This pseudo-morality disarms good people making them helpless victims of bad people. I intend to reverse that process—with a little help from John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Charles Bronson—employing the Non-Aggression Principle as an ethical discriminator. It's Libertarianism's chief contribution in the history of human thought and of greater fundamental significance than the invention of Scientific Method.
: I'm afraid your charge of neovictorianism escapes me. The evidence I see is that violence for its own sake is almost a religion nowadays: not something people are refusing to see. Rather, they glory in it, at least in fiction. And while I wouldn't censor it, I must say it strikes me as basically unhealthy. Self-defense is one thing —glorification of gore is another. It might even promote real-life violence, but I suppose you would dismiss that possibility with contempt, right?
: Think back to prime-time network series of the last ten years; Barnaby Jones, Cannon, Hawaii Five-O. You knew at the beginning of the program who the bad guy was—usually a wealthy individual with guns and trophies hanging on his walls. When newsies report a murder: they show a slide of a gun, even if it's a beating or a stabbing. There was never a minority more persistently or insidiously hounded than gun enthusiasts. The cant is that guns are evil, that anyone foolish enough to try protecting himself—not relying on the State —will come to a bad end, and that violence in and of itself is bad, while nonviolence is good. This is a slave ethic. The networks still run subliminal propaganda against self defense in "news" and "entertainment" programming. Until you've "seen the fnords", they affect your judgement. They've affected yours.
You seem to be mistaken in another respect: Victorian times were scarcely characterized by sexual abstinence. The cant of those times was repression, the result: bizarre behavior on a cosmic scale. Most of today's kinky fetishes have origins in those times. Similarly, when a fundamental human capacity is repressed—in this case the capacity to do violence—we see yet another constellation of bizarre activities arise on a similar scale. Hence the gore on the screen and in the streets. Again, think back—Charles Manson was the product of an anti-violent philosopby. So was Jim Jones.
What makes this possible is widespread Judeo-Christian confusion concerning the morality of violence. This serves the interests of establisbed authority. As I say, most people will tell you that all violence is evil. In fact, it's totally neutral; a human capacity linked with survival, Just like sexuality. If you arbitrarily discourage peop1e from walking or eating, you'd get analagous bizarre results.
The answer—what I am struggling with in my novels—is to face human violence rashly, just as Havelock Ellis did sex. Repressing behavior is no help. I am trying to create a new ethic based on the Non-Aggression Principle. I am determined to go wherever thoughtful analysis leads me. If this means little children carrying guns, so be it. It can't help but create a better—and less violent society than we live in. As for the suggestion that media violence promotes real violence, sure it does —"the way flies cause garbage."
: I know you're a gun enthusiast, but do you really think we'd be better off with everyone armed to the eyebrows as is the case in the Confederacy?
: Look at the way you've asked the question; it's symptomatic: current technology requires that a person carry a pistol and spare magazine to be minimally defended. Who benefits from a phrase like "armed to the eyebrows?" Certainly the State and freelance criminals too. You're calling "legs" by a euphemism again, serving the cause of tyranny.
I'm so bitterly opposed to gun control—of any kind—that it sometimes makes me inarticulate with rage. I trust it's equally obvious that I would fight any law requiring people to be armed—that's a hell of a lot more choice than the other side—in the name of humanitarianism —would allow you. Always remember: anti-gun laws, like any other law, are enforced at gunpoint.
People must be free to decide for themselves—and natural selection to take its course—but you should know that places where guns are banned are the most dangerous places to be. Yet another Ne(i/a)1, Neal Knox, a gun editor I know slightly, did a study demonstrating that during the "Wild West" period, cities like Boston and New Bedford were vastly more violent than say, Abilene or Leadville, owing precisely to the absence of personal weapons. Recently it was shown in Orlando that the mere possibility that a rapist's victim might be able to defend herself virtually erased the crime of rape in that area.
People never learn. They adopt an English attitude that providing your own security is just too nasty to discuss. Too bad, because I've come to believe the one task which cannot be efficiently delegated to a division-of-labor is personal defense. See the pages of any metropolitan newspaper for documentation. The price of not dirtying your hands is death.
: Wait a minutes, wait a minute—I didn't advocate gun control. I just asked if you really thought we'd be better off armed. "To the eyebrows" was just a play on the popular "to the teeth" platitude. But look at your over-reaction. I'm opposed to gun control too, but I remain unarmed and non-violent myself. See the pages of any newspaper and you'll see that you are more likely to be killed by a friend, relative or spouse than by a robber or rapist, and that's an issue of the general level of stupidity. hatefulness and drunkenness, not cool self-defense. Aren't you neo-victorianly ignoring that angle?
: On the contrary. In repeating that nonsense about being killed by someone close. you're unwittingly spreading statist propaganda. It isn't true; there are no facts and figures to substantiable it. Unfortunately: when someone makes up a story, there's no way to call it back. Same reason we're stuck with religion. Bill Ruger, the gun manufacturer, once appeared on a talk show with some gun control crazies offering the same story. He challanged them repeatedly to back it up. They couldn't. The show went on; every now and then he asked them whether they'd remembered and they'd shy off. Like Carl Bakal's self-admitted lie that 80,000 people in America have died by gunshot since 1900, they'd simply made it up, then got caught at it by someone willing to make a scene. A great thing, willingness to make a scene.
The old saw about spouse murders being the most frequent kind (along with the intended conclusion that we all are potential murderers) also melts under examination: 90 percent of the men and women who kill their spouses have previous criminal records. So we are not all potential murderers.
As to my oversalting, I'm sure George III thought the same of Thomas Paine. You may recall in the 7Os how a group of Libertarians or fellow-travelers, surveying the Minerva atoll with the possibility in mind of land-filling it to produce the world's first free country, were run off—hundreds of miles outside his territorial waters-by his Malodorous Obesity, the King of Tonga's "navy" consisting of a single lousy WW II-surplus PT boat. A determined individual with a 30-06 could have settled that issue—PT boats are made of plywood. This is a pivotal issue. A disarmed person ls helpless. No one interested in life, liberty, property or the "pursuit of happiness" can afford to be reasonable. Moral cowardice, disintegrate and compromise betrayed the Revolution to the Federalists. They killed the Whiskey Rebellion, and they're responsible for the conspicuous and disgusting failures of the Libertarian Party. I think Barry Goldwater's (actually Karl Hess's) words about moderation and extremism apply fully here.
One more thing and we'll let this go. I'm armed and that allows me to be non-violent. It also allows me to objectively, historically consider "the general level of stupidity, hatefulness and drunkeness" in society. I do not think people in general are stupid, hateful or drunken. nor are these particularly stupids hateful or drunken times. You wanna see drunken check out the 18th century; those folks could really put it away! But it certainly serves the interests of the State for us to consider one another stupid, hateful and drunken. doesn't it? It justifies all kinds of destructive laws, it pits us against one another instead of against the real enemy.
There's a relationship here with Nathaniel Branden's "sense of benevolence." (He's evidently a shooter, by the way; some years ago I saw a letter from him in a gun magazine asking advice about his .45 Commander.) Because I'm a Libertarian, anarchist, atheist, discording. etc., because I recognize no obligations I didn't undertake, I don't suffer the nagging feeling that I owe everything to everybody and that at any moment they might suddenly decide to collect. This (like being armed—which banishes fear while instilling prudence and impressing on you who your real enemies are) changes the reality tunnel you travel in, and allows you to like your fellow sapients. I'm repeatedly criticized for implying in my books that people in general are rational and benevolent. Once again, I'm right and the critics have their heads wedged.
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